Bye, Bye, Buy: We Vote With Our Money. So What If We Stop Spending It?
Each year a hundred billion clothes are produced. Does it matter if these clothes are made in an ethical sustainable way? Of course it does! But when addressing such unthinkable amounts, does it really?
Being a conscious consumer means you buy from sustainable stores. But simply exchanging one thing for another will not change a thing. Because it’s not just about exchanging ‘bad’ with ‘good’. No matter how much ‘good’ you have, it’s still ‘bad’ if you have too much of it. In other words, quoting Orsola de Castro (co-founder of Fashion Revolution): “Sustainability has been trending for billions of years, or we wouldn’t be alive. It’s excess that is the trend, and we need to make it firmly out of fashion.”
You can’t buy yourself sustainable
This doesn’t mean we should stop shopping at sustainable stores. It simply means that we should acknowledge that we can’t buy ourselves sustainable. In fact, the most sustainable thing to do is nothing. NOTHING. No hydro flask, bamboo toothbrush or Tesla car needed to make you a conscious consumer! This, apparently, is an important statement to make as sustainability has been hijacked by capitalism; where finding alternatives was once a laborious endeavour, nowadays ‘eco-friendly’ is an overly-desirable adjective of commerce. Obviously, this accessibility is a good thing (and still needs expanding), however, every gold mine comes with greed.
Greenwashing is one thing. Creating a ‘need’ for more (while promoting less) is another. Even though there’s probably a perfectly good alternative already in your possession, the name game dictates it’s not up for the job because it lacks a certain – often expensive – brand name. Sustainability has become the victim of commodification, but instead of Gucci in gold, you’ve got Green Queen in biodegradable glitter. This leads to overconsumption, where sustainability is for sale and participation can only be bought. But doing your bit shouldn’t be determined by a price tag! Not least because doing nothing – re/using the things you already own – is often better than buying everything new and tossing out the old.
The ‘no buy’ challenge
So, what will happen if we stop spending our money? In any other situation I’d say that every vote counts, but, in this situation, things are a bit more tricky. The potential power of a vote unspent made me conscious of my own participation in trying to obtain the sustainability membership card; thinking that more ‘good’ automatically meant less ‘bad’. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. So, if ‘good’ can be ‘bad’ too, is ‘neutral’ the better option? Well, there’s only one way to find out… Although I’m no big spender, this year I want to be/come more conscious and change my buying behaviour for the better.
The better being environmental friendlier, but also reinforcing the narrative that a sustainability membership card is worthless if it’s based on stuff rather than, you know, trying to actually ‘do good’. So, by challenging myself to not buy anything this year (anything not being nothing, but we’ll get to that…), I want to eliminate the constant push for more; even when this more is based on ‘having less’. While I see myself as a conscious consumer, I recently realised how much time I spend on money; what I can buy, what I can’t buy, what I can buy if I’d only eat beans for the rest of my life…
How to stop buying?
Real talk: you can’t buy nothing. Even the penny pinchers among us has to spend money on food, living and hygiene. Never. forget. hygiene. Does this mean you automatically fail the ‘no buy challenge’? Of course not! Starving, smelling or trading your bedroom for a cardboard box isn’t really the goal of the challenge (though, appreciating the things you already have is). A ‘no buy challenge’ is different for everyone, therefore it’s important to take some time to think about how you want to go about it. Here are three pointers that helped me get started on my ‘no buy challenge’!
1. What do you want to change and why?
Do you, like me, want to change the narrative of sustainability as a ‘thing you can buy’? Or, do you have a floordrobe that – mysteriously – gets higher and higher? No matter your why, it’s good to write it down as a motivational reminder.
2. What are/aren’t you allowed to buy? (Be specific!)
This naturally depends on your why, but creating a buying-guide helps you navigating the stores. You can also specify your ‘no buy’ to particular categories or give terms and conditions to them. For instance: I won’t buy any new books until I’ve read at least 10 books I already own.
3. If you’re a shopping-enthusiast: with what are you replacing that shopping behaviour?
I’m guilty of spending hours and hours browsing online stores, looking at stuff I could buy (if I’d go on the before-mentioned beans only diet). So, what are you going to do instead? Try to replace this time with something more fulfilling and meaningful. Perhaps reading those 10 books…
BONUS TIP! Keep yourself accountable: share your challenge with friends and family, keep track of the things you do buy (and adjust your spendings accordingly), and keep a log with the progress – or regress – you’re making. AND use #byebyebuy on your social media (and tag @the.so.and.so), so we can both complain about all the things we can’t buy. 😉
What are your thoughts on the ‘no buy challenge’? #byebyebuy? Let me know in the comments (they’re free)!